Mobile, Ala.--A Ryan Jenkins two-out, two-run single helped Auburn overcome a two-run deficit in the eighth inning and defeat the Jacksonville Dolphins 7-6 Friday afternoon at Stanky Field on the campus of South Alabama in the first game of the Coca-Cola Classic. Auburn improves to 8-1 on the season while Jacksonville falls to 4-6.
Despite a very sloppy game in the field where the Tigers made four errors that contributed directly to all six Jacksonville runs, Auburn's pitching was again superb on the day as the Dolphins got just four hits off four different Auburn pitchers. Starter Bryan Woodall allowed three unearned runs on three hits in six innings as he again had a solid outing on Friday. Relievers Justin Bristow, Scott Shuman and Chris Dennis all pitched solid as well with Shuman picking up his second win and Dennis his first save. Coach Tommy Slater says that while the defense wasn't up to form the team found a way to win the game.
"We really didn't play very well," Slater says. "We had four errors and a lot of our errors led to their runs. We gave them most of the runs they scored today. We've got to do a better job of taking care of the baseball. Credit our guys for battling back on a couple of different occasions and scoring enough runs for us to win today.
"Woody really threw the ball well," Slater says of Woodall. "He made an error which cost us two runs and that's unusual for him. He's a great athlete and we always tease him that he's the fifth string shortstop. That's an unusual error. Bristow really threw the ball well in the seventh. Shuman has been lights out and that's why we brought him in there. We make two errors behind him in the eighth, which is unusual for us because we've been playing such good defense. Our kids really did a nice job of keeping focus and battling back."
It was a never-say-die attitude that Auburn showed on Friday as they came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning down 6-4 to Jacksonville after blowing a lead in the top of the inning thanks to two errors. Trailing thanks to six unearned runs, Auburn went to work thanks to the middle of the order. With one out in the inning left fielder Mike Bianucci reached on a walk and first baseman Andy Bennett followed with a walk of his own to get things going.
That brought Robert Brooks to the plate looking for his first hit on the day. One of Auburn's most consistent hitters this season, the Enterprise native singled up the middle to score Bianucci and put runners on first and second with one out. Following a strike out for the inning's second out it was up to Jenkins to get the job done.
A replacement for starting catcher Dustin Spruill earlier in the game after Spruill left for a pinch-runner, Jenkins came up with two outs and two runners on in the eighth inning and Auburn trailing by one. Not the best time for your first at-bat of the season but the Auburn sophomore came through in the clutch with a single up the middle to score both Bennett and Brooks. The two runs pushed Auburn back in front heading to the ninth where Dennis closed out the victory.
Mike Bianucci had two hits and scored twice for the Tigers.
The Dolphins got on the board first as they finally got to Woodall in the third inning thanks to some help from the pitcher himself. After retiring the first two Jacksonville batters in the inning, Woodall issued the dreaded two-out walk to leadoff man Kevin Ferreira. That would prove costly as a ground ball down the first base line was bobbled by Woodall for an error to put runners on first and second with two outs for left fielder Pete Clifford. Getting a pitch to drive, Clifford lined a double over the head of Bianucci in left field to score both runners and put Jacksonville up 2-0.
Auburn came back to get on the board in the bottom of the inning as freshman catcher Spruill led off with a walk to give the Tigers some life off Jacksonville starter Matt Gardner. After moving up on a sacrifice bunt by Eric Skinner it appeared Spruill would be stranded as leadoff man Bruce Edwards struck out for the second out of the inning. Sophomore Luke Greinke would get the job done though as he singled sharply to left field to score Spruill and cut the Dolphin lead in half.
Following a scoreless top of the fourth by Woodall, the Tigers came back for more at the plate as Bennett doubled to right field to lead things off. Moving to third on a fly ball off the bat of Brooks, Bennett scored moments later as freshman Ross Smith lofted a fly ball to center field to tie the game at two runs each.
Jacksonville came back to take the lead from the Tigers in the top of the fifth as Auburn's defense once again let the Tigers down. Shortstop Ben Kerr started the inning with a single to left field and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by James Logan. That brought up the top of the Dolphin order once again but Woodall got Ferreira on a ground ball for the second out of the inning. Looking like he would escape with no damage, Woodall wasn't that fortunate as a passed ball by Spruill allowed Kerr to score and give the lead back to Jacksonville 3-2.
The Tigers took the lead back in the sixth thanks to the strong middle of the order as Josh Donaldson singled to right field to start the inning, bringing Bianucci to the plate. Looking for something to drive up the middle, Bianucci lifted a long fly ball to center field that cleared the 400-foot mark for a home run. The two-run blast was the fourth of the season for Bianucci and gave the Tigers a 4-3 advantage.
Bristow would come on to pitch a scoreless seventh inning before Auburn would go back to work in the bottom half of the inning. Leading things off, Spruill drilled a double to right field before giving way to pinch runner Josh Stapleton. With a perfect chance to get some breathing room the Tigers instead left the runner on second as Skinner, Edwards and pinch hitter Ben Jones all failed to push the run across, leaving Auburn with a one-run lead heading to the eighth.
That's when the error would once again rear its ugly head to cost Auburn the ballgame. Shuman came on to start the eighth and with one out he walked Ferreira to give the Dolphins some life. Then Opachich hit what appeared to be a double-play ball to short but Skinner's toss to Brooks was dropped for the error to put runners on first and second with just one out. Another walk then loaded the bases for top hitter McCallister. Again Auburn had a ground ball with a chance to cut down the lead runner or at least get an out but Donaldson bobbled the ball in his glove for Auburn's fourth error of the day.
The error was huge as Shuman got McArdle on strikes for what would have been the final out of the inning. Instead, catcher Donnie Vickers blooped a single just over the head of Bennett at first base for a single. The hit pushed two runs across to give the Dolphins a 6-4 lead. The hit was just the fourth of the day for Jacksonville and allowed the final of six unearned runs to score. Now trailing by two the Tigers would need one last rally to take the victory.
At the plate Auburn was led by Bianucci with two hits, two runs scored and two RBI while Jenkins' single and two RBI were the biggest of the day for the Tigers. Bennett chipped in with a single and also scored two runs.